By Becky Cook
Here we are in the middle of winter, already accustomed to the mandatory clock change called Daylight Savings Time. The days get shorter and the nights get longer. That is an irreversible fact of nature. And to me, it ushers in a delightful slow-down-and-cozy-hot-chocolate time of year. But for others not so much.
Scientists have somehow decided that our lives are safer, more productive, and more comfortable by changing our clocks by one hour twice a year to bring about the best use of each day and by economizing our energy and activity and increasing safety. In the fall we are instructed to “fall back” or reset our clocks back one hour. And then we are supposed to be delighted with an earlier arrival of daylight and of course earlier arrival of darkness at the end of the day. But, there’s no less time. Just reassigned clock hours. And, when spring arrives we are again instructed to reverse the process and “spring forward” or steal an hour back from the morning and attach it to the evening. Big deal you might say. But, for some folks it really is a huge issue. I know one who struggles with it every winter.
In certain places on the earth, such as Rjukan, Norway, the residents see no natural sunlight from October to March. Giant mirrors installed on a mountainside are programmed to rotate with the rising and setting sun. They reflect the sunrays and beam sunlight into the town square in a sort of continuous glow. It helps the residents to cope with the relentless season of darkness. We are told by psychologists that prolonged lack of light such as this can have a profound effect on our emotional health, even require medication.
It’s never too late to learn a new word. And I just discovered what a “chronobiologist” is. They study and treat the phenomenon known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.) It is considered to be a form of depression that appears at the same time each year and disappears similarly. As days shorten and daylight hours decrease, the affected person experiences lethargy and blues, plus increased craving for carbohydrates and sweets. When longer daylight hours return, normal mood and energy levels also return. Scientists explain that an imbalance of certain hormones in the brain is directly related to the amount of sunlight in our environment. The combination of shorter days/longer hours of darkness causes the imbalance and may create biological conditions for depression. More women than men, and some children, suffer from the condition. After two or three repeats of the pattern, the diagnosis is confirmed. Professional help is sometimes needed to overcome it.
The thing is we can only really appreciate the phenomenon of light when we realize that it provides contrast from darkness. We don’t need light when we sleep. But, there is very little else we do that doesn’t require some level of lighting unless we have no eyesight at all!
The long dark days of winter are here for a while longer. People with SAD syndrome are finding ways to cope. But, spring will come. And there will be just a little more light each day. In the meantime our hearts and minds are filled with the fresh memory of the glorious lights (both physical and spiritual) of Christmas. The Bible offers us many symbolic representations of light and how the mission and message of Jesus are entwined with the phenomenon of light. One of my favorites is a quote of Jesus’ words:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12